Monday, March 30, 2009

Garlic- better late than never.

image courtesy of
Garlic is supposed to be planted in the fall. We usually put it in the ground in November, in a small bed that also contains a sage plant and a couple of peach trees that sprang from the compost bin like Athena from Zeus' head.*

Last fall, though, was a tense and dreadful time, bounded with the fear of, and later the reality of, losing my job. In the wake of learning to cope, the garlic did not get planted.

A week or so ago, Chuck and I went out to dinner with some friends, at a restaurant conveniently located next door to a commercial greenhouse. We got there a little early, and browsed a bit. I was surprised to see pots of garlic for sale. We did not buy them, because we had sworn not to purchase ANYTHING, no matter how cute or green or tasty it looked.

However, on Saturday we were taking the long and winding road back home from a trip to look at hardwood flooring. I told Chuck that if we passed within line of sight of this nursery, I was buying the garlic plants because I just couldn't bear a year without it. (He thought he was safe because it is far from our house and well off the beaten path. However, I was navigating... and have an excellent sense of direction and place.)

Once we arrived at the nursery, though, I was dismayed to find that there were 3 garlic shoots per pot, and the pots cost $2.99. Each. I just couldn't justify making that purchase. I mean, fresh homegrown garlic is, indeed, worth it's weight in gold, I know. But not worth $1.00 a shoot. Sorry.

We decided to take our chances and plant the garlic right now. I flinch to admit it here, but I just went to the grocery store and bought garlic bulbs there. They felt full and fresh. I dug 4 short trenches next to the Asian greens, and planted approximately 40 cloves of garlic. According to Gourmet Garlic Gardens, I can expect a small harvest, perhaps with undifferentiated bulbs. The Virginia Cooperative Extension tells me I have done it incorrectly by not chilling-
    "Garlic can be spring planted, but a chilling requirement must be met for the cloves to properly grow, and plants need to reach an adequate size before day length increases, which triggers bulb formation. To meet this requirement, spring planted garlic should be stored under refrigeration for at least 8 weeks prior to planting, and should be set as early in the spring as possible."
I don't care- I just want garlic. We'll see what happens. Next fall, provided we still live here, or expect to live here in the summer, the garlic WILL be planted. Mother Earth News has an article about garlic planting here, should you care to read it. Kenneth Point, who gardens here in Central PA has more to say here.

*We don't expect nice peaches to come from this, since peach trees are grafted and the seed stock doesn't reproduce true. Go here for a good explanation. But hope springs eternal, and Chuck just couldn't bear to trash them. We are also kind to the volunteer tomatoes that jump up, too.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How did you observe Earth Hour?

Chuck and I ate tacos by candle light, and then took the dogs for a walk.
Here is an article about how Calgary observed, and here is one about New York City and Time's Square. Here is a map of US Cities who participated- I'm proud that in Harrisburg, PA, the capitol dome lights were to be turned off. Below is a video taken at various places across New Zealand and Fiji.

Now, what is our next step? Turning off the lights for one hour on one evening is a wasted gesture if it doesn't engender further conservation. Here and here are some suggestions. Why not pick one and work on it for April. In May, add another. My pledge for April has to do with the laundry. We already wash in cold water, and have an energy efficient front loading machine. So in order to get more reduction of energy in the laundry area, I'll be drying my clothes on the line.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Carrots, onions, tatsoi, pak choi, all in the ground today.

I like gardening best when I am the planner and Chuck does the work. However, this year I've vowed to shoulder my share of the responsibilities, even if it means getting dirt under my fingernails.
Over the weekend I built a very small raised bed for my carrots, and I planted 2 rows today. I'll plant another row every other week, so we should have carrots maturing most of the season. It's still pretty cool here- we were in the 40's today, and our average date for last frost is April 15.

Carrot bed

I also planted my Asian greens- a double row of Tatsoi, and a double row of Pak Choi. They will get thinned down to 1 plant per 6 inch block. The thinnings will be tasty!

I also planted a row each of red scallions and white. We bought a tool to help us plant out tiny seeds- it's shown on the top of the seed packets in the top picture.
carrot bed with onions behind them

My little tomato, pepper, basil and squashes are looking pretty good under the lights.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Signs of Spring

Helleborus- common name Lenten Rose

The Vernal Equinox is tomorrow- spring arrives for me at 7:44 tomorrow morning.

Here's what the day before spring looks like around here.

Salvia- common name Sage New sage leaves amongst the old;

Foeniculum vulgare- common name Bronze Fennel Miniature Bronze fennel fronds;

Alchemilla-  common name Ladies Mantle Ladies Mantle;

Earth Mother watching over daffodils The Earth Mother watches over daffodils;

Dicentra- common name Bleeding Heart The bleeding hearts get huge each year, despite their small start.

Aquilegia- common name ColumbineColumbine;

Rheum rhabarbarum, common name Rhubarb And a rhubarb leaf about the size of a quarter.
HemerocallisDay lilies;

And the robins are out in force. Actually, the grackles and starlings arrive the same day as the robins, sometimes even a bit before, and are as much a harbinger of spring.

What does spring look like at your house?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Much Ado about Earth Hour

Crunchy Chicken posted about Earth Hour last Thursday. The Earth Hour campaign, as I am sure you know, is a global event in which people turn off their lights for an hour on March 28, 8:30 to 9:30 PM. Participation is seen as an indicator that Global Warning is of concern.

Her post focuses on alternative light for those who are participating, and mainly just pointed out that burning paraffin candles for an event to bring attention to reducing ones carbon footprint was counter-productive, and reminded those who were participating to use beeswax candles instead. At the end, she asks
    "Are you going to do Earth Hour this year and what kind of alternative lighting will be used, if any?"
I read the comments after the post, and ended up feeling depressed.

Most people reading Crunchy's blog say they will already have their lights turned off at that time for a variety of reasons ranging from previous commitments for reducing their footprint to never being home on Saturday night.

Others say that Earth Hour can be a springboard to activism, like scifichick:
    We will be participating in the Earth Hour. To me it's not about the actual savings or not, but about bringing awareness. Sure, there is a lot of commercialism around it, but the message needs to be spread somehow.
It was the other group of respondents that depressed me. This group is opposed to Earth Hour.**They say things like Bucky here:
    As a means to stop carbon emissions, this is completely ridiculous. Earth Hour! might work as a marketing / awareness ploy, but will do nothing in terms of of greenhouse gas production (unless someone is actually producing their own electricity and can go into the backyard shed and shut down the generator).
    Just because you turn your lights off for an hour doesn't mean that the big bad electric utility isn't still burning coal and gas to use the electricity you aren't using. The system just doesn't work that way.
    The utility's goal is to produce just enough electricity at any given moment so that everyone has what they want but not more than that because that wastes fuel and money. In reality, the utility companies always produce excess energy. They have gotten very good at predicting grid loads to meet expected and usual demand.
    Turning off your lights for an hour will do nothing in terms of electricity produced. Even if the utility company realized that there would be less demand during this ONE hour, it still wouldn't matter as it takes time to shut down and then ramp back up the massive generators that produce our electricity.
    Turning on or off your light might happen at the flick of a switch, but generating the electricity to power that light doesn't happen that fast or easily.
    The only way to reduce carbon emissions is to consistently reduce demand over a period of time.
    So ... count me in the Earth Hour! is a big steaming load of horse shit and we should be spending our time doing most anything else.
Megan says
    I agree that I think it's often a marketing awareness-raising ploy. The problem is that you need a lot of focus on what to do AFTER earth hour. People I think would find it too easy to think that they've "done their bit" in that hour, and don't feel that they need to do much else. I think changing light bulbs and not using plastic bags can lull people into that same sense of security.

    Have you considered doing a no-flights-for-a-year pledge? That's bound to save WAY more emissions than the cloth wipe challenge, although it might be less fun. Or no car for a month? Or a look-into-jobs-that-don't-have-a-commute day?
And Laura, who responded to a comment I made in which I wondered how observing Earth Hour! could hurt, by saying
    I disagree. It can hurt because we just don't have time to waste on empty, feel good action. If this were the 70's and people were doing Earth Hour, I'd say more power(hee!) to ya. But it's years later and we have yet to truly change our ways. It can hurt because the people/organizations/companies who are promoting events like this should know better.
I'm sorry, despite all the schooling, I still don't get it. I guess I am too old to understand this- I came of age in the '70's, when the adage "The personal is the political" was the watchword. I understand that to mean that our lives, and how we live them, are what make the changes in our world.* That our personal choices are our witness to the world. (Even if we have just recently begun to make those choices).

Let's say Neophyte Activist recently realized that she can change her lightbulbs from incandescent to CFL's, and can avoid using plastic bags, and that will be helpful. Does that mean Neo should be made to feel bad that she is not doing more? Or should someone further along the path than Neo is say something like "That's great- I've changed over to CFL's too. You know what else you could do that will help? You might try...." or "Have you read..." "Do you know..."

So what if Earth Hour! is surrounded by commercialism and vague in its outcome. How does it help to decry anything that might open eyes that have previously been closed? As with every change, education changes attitudes. We can't educate if we are denigrating what people can do.

*Yah, yah, I get it- it's year's later and we still need to drastically change. It seems, at first glance that the Personal is Political adage failed. I don't see it that way- I see it more as a failure to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Had enough hippies been more committed, we would be further along than we are now. My views on why are for another post, another day.

**These are not the people who are promoting anti-earth hours, or "truth" hours. These folks don't believe in global warming, and plan to spend an hour running every electric appliance they own. I am not sure which group makes me more sad, but I DO know who makes me more angry.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Growing Challenge- Seed to Seed- Baby Plants

It's been 3 weeks and a couple days since the sowing of seeds. Almost everything has come up well. The exceptions- absolutely NO Ancho chiles came up- I planted 16- and just a few- between 3 and 6- Thai round eggplant came up- planted 16 of those as well.

The Red Kuri Squash are looking wonderful; they are getting true leaves. Everything else still has cotyledon leaves (the first leaves to show up when a seed sprouts.) I actually planted the squash a little too early, and hope that they don't outgrow my space before I can set them outside. Our average last frost date is April 15, still just over a month away.
We have 2 fluorescent fixtures, each with two 32 watt bulbs. The lights are on between 14 and 16 hours a day. I am thinking of getting another fixture and 2 more bulbs. I also have a small fan that I turn on and off at random- it helps keep molds down, and the air blowing against the small stems of the plants helps make them stockier. I also run a cool mist humidifier for a few hours every other day or so.

I am a little concerned about the electricity use. I do have a greenhouse window off the garage, and I may move them down to that when the weather warms up a little. It has a breach in it and too much cold air comes in. Alternatively, I may build some cold frames in the backyard. We have plenty of cinderblocks, and I think we have some old windows. I would actually like a permanent coldframe for to extend the harvest of lettuces.

Read more about The Growing Challenge on One Green Generation here

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Skill Sets

I was cleaning out a closet today, and I found a yearbook from the first year I taught as a "real" teacher, back in 1991. I spent a pleasant few minutes remembering my students and wondering what they were doing now. It was a terrific class and an exciting year. As a computer-themed magnet school, we were under a mandate to have every child in our classroom spend at least half of the day using a computer. Schools are designed to provide students with a set of skills that would make them successful in their future; in this case, end user and programming skills for a technology-rich society.

In what may seem at first to be a completely unrelated thought, I am reading a series of books by S. M. Stirling, set in an alternate present in which technology has mysteriously ceased to work. In this set of books, those who survive are those most adaptable, and also those who have the knowledge to raise and preserve food and build shelter.

Obviously, Stirling is writing fiction. It's highly unlikely that we will wake up tomorrow and find ourselves in his Emberverse. But we do live in a society that desperately needs to change. If we do not alter our habits voluntarily now, it is conceivable that our children and their children will find themselves with no options.

Global warming and climate change is a reality. According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, produce travels between 1,200 to 2,000 miles from farm to plate. The pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions created by the transport of food is huge: the Natural Resources Defense Council provides these figures:
  • Almost 250,000 tons of global warming gases released were attributable to imports of food products— the equivalent amount of pollution produced by more than 40,000 vehicles on the road or nearly two power plants.
  • More than 6,000 tons of smog-forming nitrogen oxides were released into the air—the equivalent of almost 1.5 million vehicles or 263 power plants!
  • 300 tons of sooty particulate matter were released into the air—the equivalent of more than 1.2 million cars or 53 power plants.
In addition to concerns about the carbon footprint resulting from massive food transportation, there is concern about what the disruption of food supply lines could mean. According to a survey published by North Carolina State University, Food From Our Changing World, 85% of the people surveyed felt that food supply was of great concern as target for terrorist attacks.
copyright W. M. Jessee, 2009copyright W.M. Jessee, 2009
And what about Nature Deficit Disorder? In a Salon interview with Richard Louv about his book Last Child in the Woods, Sarah Karnasiewicz says
    Louv argues that sensationalist media coverage and paranoid parents have literally "scared children straight out of the woods and fields," while promoting a litigious culture of fear that favors "safe" regimented sports over imaginative play. Well-meaning elementary school curricula may teach students everything there is to know about the Amazon rain forest's endangered species, but do little to encourage kids' personal relationship with the world outside their own doors. And advances in technology, while opening up a wealth of "virtual" experiences to the young, have made it easier and easier for children to spend less time outside.
I can see evidence of that, even here in semi-rural Pennsylvania. While we have a number of parks for use, the only undeveloped free play area, not taken over by ball fields is in the dog park, where patrons are asked not to bring children under 10.

Later in the interview, Louv says:
    But the hyper-awareness gained from early experience in nature may be the flip side of hyper-vigilance; a positive way to pay attention, and, when it's appropriate, to be on guard. We're familiar with the term "street smart." Perhaps another, wider, adaptive intelligence is available to the young? Call it "nature smart." One father I spoke to said he believes that a child in nature is required to make decisions not often encountered in a more constricted, planned environment -- ones that not only present danger, but opportunity. Organized sports, with its finite set of rules, is said to build character. If that is true, and of course it can be, nature experience must do the same, in ways we do not fully understand. A natural environment is far more complex than any playing field. Nature does offer rules and risk, and subtly informs all the senses.
Finally, there is our planned obsolescence mindset, hand in hand with the heavy use of plastics in manufacture. It is rare to repair broken items any more, it is simpler and cheaper often to discard them and buy another.

It's not just children who are losing basic survival skills. When we first moved to this area, I almost had a stroke while riding in a car with a Real Estate agent. We were on our way to look at a house, driving down a rural road. She said "I wish these farmers would sell off the land next to the roads for development. What do they need it for?" Obviously she had a shaky concept about the relationship between farmers and food. Girl Scout Councils across the country organize badge days where girls earn sewing or cooking badges because many leaders don't know how to sew or cook.

So- what skills do our children need? No one is arguing against providing them with technology skills, but should they also be able to plant a garden, grow a tomato in a pot or fix something that is broken?